New technique to write off anxiety / PTSD sufferers encouraged to keep journals to help treat their disorders
Sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder are being encouraged to write about their trauma in a journal and then read their entries out loud, as part of a new treatment technique.
Masaru Horikoshi, a doctor at the National Center for Neurology and Psychiatry in Kodaira, Tokyo, says this fresh approach to mental health therapy can help PTSD sufferers recover from the disorder.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after someone experiences an incident that is beyond their ability to recover from, leading to severe psychological trauma.
"In some cases, the disorder can't be overcome by avoiding [dealing with the event]. By writing down what they feel about the incident, sufferers face painful experiences, put these into perspective and become strong enough to deal appropriately with them." Horikoshi said.
PTSD cases often involve those who have experienced a disaster, accident, sexual assault or another crime. Sufferers commonly develop sleeping difficulties and experience flashbacks of the traumatic incidents. These people tend to avoid things that remind them of the trauma and may erase part of the incident from their memory. PTSD is diagnosed when sufferers experience these symptoms for more than a month.
Mental health practitioners most commonly treat PTSD patients by asking them to recall the events, which caused the disorder and discuss these in detail. This dialogue is used to heal the patients' emotional scars.
Using writing to treat PTSD is a relatively new practice. In the United States it has produced almost identical results to the dialogue method.
"Sufferers can decide how much they want to write about their experiences. So this method of treatment could be an option for those who find it difficult to speak about their traumatic experiences," Horikoshi said.
Horikoshi is part of a group of people that is creating a nontechnical guide to use this writing technique to treat PTSD called "Kokoro o Iyasu Noto" (A notebook to heal your mind), which will be published in March.
This book has a section in which users can write down traumatic experiences and answer questions that are designed to help them deal with their problems.
Horikoshi explained how to maintain a journal that can be used to help in the treatment of PTSD.
You begin by writing the things that have and have not changed following the traumatic event. This could be something to do with your personality, relationships, everyday life, philosophy and perspective of the world. This will help you think about the incident's significance to you. It's OK to stop if you are unable to write all of this information in one go. You may continue once more when you feel relaxed and have peace of mind.
"When writing about a traumatic experience, you might find it hard to continue writing if your emotions take over, and you begin experiencing anxious thoughts such as 'I can't trust anyone' or 'Nothing good will happen even if I keep going.' Draw a line on the page after your last word if you feel this way. This will help you understand what is bothering you and learn about things that you aren't sure how to feel about," Horikoshi said.
"One of the purposes of this treatment is to understand what you are mentally unable to deal with. So it's important to write down your thoughts honestly, even if this is done gradually," he added.
After an entry in your journal is completed, read it out loud. This will enable you to think again about the meaning of what you have written down, while gradually getting used to the uncomfortable feelings and emotions that you normally want to avoid.
Once you are able to read the entry out loud without skipping any lines, try to write down the details of the event itself. This process pushes you to review your traumatic experience, develop a better understanding of what happened and deal with the feelings and emotions that may be bothering you. Again, read all the entries out loud after they are written.
In the United States, sufferers take 12 weekly writing therapy sessions where they are assisted by doctors and mental health practitioners. Japan's National Center for Neurology and Psychiatry is preparing a training course for medical staff so that the same program can be introduced nationally.
Horikoshi hopes his book will help sufferers escape the shackles of PTSD and achieve a well-balanced way of thinking.